Tuesday, August 11, 2015

MACtion: When is a Point not a Point

While a pair of teams have dominated the MAC over the past decade (Northern Illinois and Central Michigan have combined for six MAC titles and nine MAC Championship Game appearances), fortunes for other teams in the conference seem to change on a regular basis. For example, in Frank Solich’s second season, Ohio improved from 3-5 in conference play to 7-1 and won the division. They dropped to 4-4 and 3-5 over the next two seasons before rebounding once again to 7-1. Miami of Ohio has enjoyed several zeniths and nadirs, finishing 2-6 in 2006, 5-2 (and division champ) in 2007, and back to 1-7 in 2008. They were 1-7 again in 2009 before jumping to 7-1 (and conference champion) in 2010. Buffalo jumped from 1-7 to 5-3 in a single season and Bowling Green fell from 6-2 to 1-7 before rebounding to 6-2 just two years later. Even entrenched powers like Northern Illinois and Central Michigan have seen losing seasons begat bowl trips and conference titles begat losing campaigns. I could go on, but you get the idea. In the MAC, very little is permanent. Why? Could it be because MAC school are fighting for the scraps of (mostly) Big 10 schools that their talent levels are very close together thereby making randomness a much bigger determinant of success in the MAC than other conferences? That is certainly a possibility. One idea I had was to look at the average point differential in conference games for each of the ten conferences playing in the FBS last season. The results are summarized below with commentary to follow.
The table should be pretty easy to read, but I’ll explain. In 2014, the average Big 12 conference game resulted in the winning team having about 19 more points than the losing team. This includes all the blowouts (i.e. all games involving Kansas), nailbiters, and overtime affairs. Obviously, the fewer blowouts a conference has, the lower the scoring margin will be. Lo and behold, look who is bringing up the rear. The average MAC conference game saw the winning team finish with about 13 more points than the losing one, the lowest in the FBS last season. These numbers were painstakingly compiled by me by hand, so I have not done any additional seasons. Therefore, the theory I am about to postulate could be totally invalidated with further research (probably an offseason project), but here goes. It is easier to improve or decline in the MAC because a point is more valuable. Since conference games are closer (pending further research) than the average conference, an additional point scored or fewer point allowed makes a bigger difference. For example, in 2014, a point in the MAC was worth about 40% more than a point in the Big 12. Of course, this could all be rendered moot by further research, but as it is, keep an eye on the downtrodden (Eastern Michigan, Kent State, and Miami) in 2015 to see if they can reverse course and make the MAC unpredictable.

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